The drama ended with a knee. This was one of those games—a near-upset turned comeback turned one-point affair—that felt like it should have ended with theatrics. Instead, Miami, up 28–27 with 54 seconds to go against Florida State, took a knee.
It was the sensible call. At the Seminoles’ one-yard line, Miami didn’t need a score, certainly didn’t need Deondre Francois and company to get a shot at a game-winning field goal. And so that was that: Willie Taggart’s grand statement of a game was for naught, and Miami improved to 5–1, remaining tied for first place in the ACC Coastal division.
For Miami, redshirt freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry put forth perhaps his best performance yet—not necessarily statistically, but he passed the late-game eye test with flying colors in the first tight game in which he’s seen significant playing time. It wasn’t pretty to begin with—Miami coach Mark Richt told reporters postgame that he’d considered benching Perry—but he ended up 13-of-32 on the evening, passing for 204 yards and four touchdowns. He did not throw an interception. And in the fourth quarter, which the Hurricanes began down, 27–21, he played his best ball of the day, completing the comeback.
Still, Miami’s resurgent second half would have been nothing without its defense, which played up to the standard of the Turnover Chain after inconsistent performances earlier in the year. The Hurricanes played to their 2017 identity, holding Florida State to 200 yards of total offense, recovering a fumble and snaring an interception in the process. Against the run, Miami was especially effective, holding Florida State to 2.1 yards per rushing attempt.
“Thank goodness for the defense and the turnover chain,” Richt said postgame. “(It’s) obviously a motivating factor for our team and a game-changer.”
Miami’s resurgent defense took heat off of Richt, whose team lost its final three games of 2017 after looking like it might be playoff-bound. This year, it started slower than some fans might have liked, losing to LSU in the opener at home. Going into Saturday, Richt was 4–4 in his last eight games, and pulling off the rivalry-game win will engender a new wave of goodwill for the coach. On the opposite sideline, too, Taggart should get a measure of credit for his team’s performance. Sure, the Seminoles aren’t going anywhere in 2018, but coming within a point of the country’s No. 17 team is far more impressive than nearly losing to Samford, scoring once on Syracuse and barely edging a down-and-out Louisville squad. An upset win would have gone a long way for Taggart’s reputation in Tallahassee, but in a rebuilding year, the Seminoles should still take some momentum out of Saturday.
Coming out of the game, Miami has a clear path to the ACC championship game; its only remaining ranked opponent is Virginia Tech, which it travels to on Nov. 17. The Hurricanes’ playoff hopes, however slim, are still alive, especially after a day that saw the country’s No. 5 and No. 7 teams lose before dinnertime. And as Richt’s team tries to gain control of the ACC, it seems to be on its way to finding its identity on defense and with its new quarterback.